In Dublin with Intercultural Cities: Local Strategies for diversity advantage

February 20th, 2013

From February 6 to 8, 2013, representatives from over 60 European cities met in Dublin to celebrate five years of the Intercultural Cities initiative (ICC) and its mission to test “a culturally competent approach to integrating diverse communities.” Cities of Migration Project Leader Kim Turner reports back from Intercultural Cities’ Milestone event on how European cities are putting diversity to work and what’s ahead for cities that want to realize the “diversity advantage.”

The Council of Europe is one of modern Europe’s oldest institutions, founded in 1949 in a world still recovering from the ravages of war with a mission to uphold human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation. Today it represents 47 member states with some 800 million citizens. While the Council’s values remain essentially unchanged, its people are increasingly urban, mobile and diverse, their historic linguistic and cultural diversity further enriched by more recent migrations from old and new worlds in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The Intercultural Cities project (ICC) embodies the Council’s vision while reflecting Europe’s new experience and shared goals for a more inclusive society.

Intercultural Cities: Local Strategies for diversity advantage

The working theme of the conference and milestone event was Intercultural Cities: Local Strategies for diversity advantage. 250 representatives from over 60 cities gathered to review the success of ICC’s intercultural model for urban renewal and city leadership on immigrant integration, to take stock of what ICC cities have achieved, what works and what doesn’t, how to measure success and explore what challenges still lie ahead. The 3-day event included panels, workshops, brainstorming and conversation with a healthy mix of ministers, mayors and deputy mayors, councilors and senior city officials, as well as academics, civil society leaders, business leaders, artists and students.

The Intercultural Cities (ICC) project was founded in 2008 by the Council of Europe and the European Union, as a joint action designed to help cities develop and exchange good intercultural practices that contribute to social cohesion while reducing racism and xenophobia. Importantly, the intercultural cities approach promotes local strategies that focus on diversity as an opportunity. ICC has developed a practical program model that starts with the formal commitment of city leadership, includes an in-depth benchmarking process based on an assessment tool and Intercultural City Index developed for the project by BAKBASEL (building on the seminal work of the OpenCities project), and is followed by an action plan keyed to the gaps and opportunities uniquely shaped by each city’s history and profile.

Cities are learning from cities 

Intercultural cities, like cities everywhere, are leading the way with innovative policies and programs that ensure immigrants are welcomed and integrated into their new hometowns, where they can contribute to the local economy and culture. Doing this well, collapsing natural time frames, avoiding the pitfalls of bad policy, reaping the rewards of good practice – this is what the conference organizers must have meant when they said they were “putting diversity to work.”

We heard much about the leadership of cities like Copenhagen, Oslo and Rotterdam whose success in developing inclusive, sustainable local solutions is all the more remarkable given the troubling national narratives that often dominate their media. How old cities of migration like Lisbon are now being enriched by immigrant investors from old world colonies. Barcelona and Montreal are exploring intercultural identities shaped by the experience of coexistence in minority-majority societies. And from Neukölln in Berlin, while much of Europe agonizes over the entry of new states into the Union, we heard about the work of neighbourhood mothers working with the city and school officials to ensure no child is left behind.

It was also exciting to see the number of smaller and new gateway cities, from Scandinavia to eastern Europe, that were bringing new ideas to the table. For example, the action plan developed by Botkyrka, Sweden, to guide the city of 80,000 from “coexistence to cooperation,” and its innovative use of “Dilemma Workshops” to address issues that arise along the way. 

Opportunities for reflection are rare these days, and can be ponderous affairs, so I really appreciated the spirited, creative way in which issues and milestones were addressed in the program. Phil Wood was there, co-author with Richard Landry of the groundbreaking publication, The Intercultural City: Planning for Diversity Advantage (Comedia, 2007), the big screen Twitter feed was buzzing, a local cartoonist translated key messages into action figures, and a city-building activity turned ideas into neighbourhood streets, schools and public space on a giant, folding city plan.

Dublin played the perfect host. Outside its magnificent Georgian buildings, it rained, the river Iffy meandered, early daffodils were in bloom. Chinese New Year celebrations were a blast. In a country that has historically known more about the “grief of emigration” than immigration’s new world,  most people here seem to grasp the notion of living together intuitively and are open to cultural hybridization. If your beer’s not Guinness, then maybe a Pilsner will do. 


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